Heart of Darkness
How we cite our quotes:
"I have wrestled with death. It's the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary." (3.48)
The dominant feature of Marlow's struggle with death is its emptiness. It takes place without anything underneath or around it, without the possibility of human contact, without noise or glory, without the desire to win or fear of losing. Most tragically, it's fought without conviction in one's own beliefs. It's as empty and meaningless a struggle as can be.
"I was within a hair's breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. […] True, he had made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to draw back my hesitating foot. And perhaps in this is the whole difference; perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible." (3.48)
Hm, this is interesting. Marlow believes that he's just as empty as the rest of them, and that only Kurtz managed to hold on to something real. Kurtz had something to say, something of importance and meaning, while he and the rest of the crew spoke meaninglessly. Marlow believes that the only way to not completely lose one's humanity in the interior is to "step over the edge." That sounds … pretty paradoxical to us, actually.
"'No!' she [the Intended] cried. 'It's impossible that all this should be lost — that such a life should be sacrificed to leave nothing—but sorrow. You know what vast plans he had. I knew of them, too - I could not perhaps understand - but others knew of them. Something must remain. His words, at least, have not died.'" (3.68)
The Intended can't deal with Kurtz being totally gone from the world. Luckily, Conrad wrote this book to keep his memory alive.